Baba Yetu

The Stanford Class of ’98 Ten-Year Reunion was last weekend, and I got a chance to catch up with Christopher Tin, composer of the Civ4 theme song, “Baba Yetu.” We couldn’t help but talk some about the piece’s remarkable run. Since its release three years ago, the song has taken on a life of its own – you can even buy sheet music now!

I don’t think we’ve ever told the tale about how the song came into being. It actually all started at the Five-Year Reunion, which was, of course, five years ago! At the Class Party, I bumped into Chris – we were roommates at Oxford my junior year – and he talked about his work so far as a composer, and I talked about the early days of Civ4. We thought a little about how great it would be if we ever got to work together on the same project but left it at that, essentially.

At the same time, I was looking at intro music for our Civ4 prototype to help give it the right “feel.” I chose a track from a CD Chris had given me long ago – a Talisman album called After Silence. Talisman is a Stanford a capella group that specializes in African and African-American music, and the track, “The Rainmaker,” was perfect for them. A sweeping Hans Zimmer vocal epic from the movie The Power of One, the piece has a spectactural climax that I edited to emerge as soon as the sun crested over the Earth on the into screen. The piece just fit perfectly, establishing the game’s tone. Everyone on the team knew immediately that we needed a piece just like it.

My first instinct was to just get the actual piece itself, so I e-mail Chris, who was the producer on After Silence. He said that the group would love to let us use the piece, but that geeting approval from Zimmer would be very difficult as he doesn’t generally license his music to video games involving war. The next step was obvious – why not have Chris write a piece of music for Talisman inspired by “The Rainmaker” to be Civ4‘s new theme song? The rest is history, I suppose. Chris decided on his own to use The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili and to add an orchestral accompaniment. My only contribution was encouraging Chris to put in a bridge, which I though would help frame the song’s peak. Needless to say, Chris did a masterful job.

On the game’s release, “Baba Yetu” was a stand-out moment for the product, receiving positive mentions in many reviews. The song’s popularity grew when Video Games Live began using it as a standard part of their repertoire. Here’s an early example from the Hollywood Bowl:

Since then, videos have been consistently popping up on YouTube of choirs performing the song all around the world. Here’s an excellent version from the Valencia High School Choir (and Orchestra!):

The Veritas High School Choir does a solid version:

This version from the Worth County R-3 Choir is quite pretty:

Hillcrest Christian High does a good job too (and looks like they’re having fun!):

Wake Forest Rolesville High School Master Chorale adds a couple dancers:

Spokane Valley University High School does a big version with some good soloists:

This intimate version from a Berkeley A Capella group named For Christ’s Sake is a nice, alternate take:

Ditto for the Horace Greeley High School Madrigal Choir:

My favorite version, though, is by Värmlandskören from Sweden. I love how they really lean into the piece – not the standard tempo, but it works:

Of course, let’s not also forget the piano version. Or the interpretive dance. Or the half-time show!

21 thoughts on “Baba Yetu

  1. Just a question: did you “address” Chris’ work during the realization of this beautiful composing? In which way and how?
    thanks!

  2. “The worst part of the Civ IV expansions was that this song was nowhere to be found. It is one of my all time favorite pieces of music.”
    Hah, true, and the *best* part of the expansions was the option to switch back to the original Civ4 title screen!

    I remember the first thing a friend who got to play the game before me said was how much the title screen (both the song and visuals) ROCKED. And it does…

  3. Pingback: loonyblog. - random thoughts on games, art, geek culture and living in california. » This is kind of awesome.

  4. I’m a first year student at Uppsala University, and during my first week, I actually got to see Värmlandskören perform this piece in that very building. It was an awsome experience, we were led into this extravagant 18th century building, not knowing what to expect. We sit down, and a choir enter the stage. And what happens? They begin to sing the opening theme for Civ 4! Probably the coolest way to be welcomed to a university, ever :)

  5. You can choose the original opening screen (with Baba Yetu) even with the expansions:

    From the game’s main menu go to Advanced –> Options –> Graphics

    I know I have ;-)

  6. Värmlandskören (or more correctly Värmlands Nations Kör) is a part of my student organization. The bald soloist is a big Civilization fan and I believe the cover was his idea.

  7. Pingback: OAImages Blog » Blog Archive » Geek Alert: Baba Yetu

  8. To the “bald soloist’s” defense I would just like to say that it was not his idea to do this song – he got the solo part anyway and completely on his own merits. :)

  9. bwahahaha!! it’s like culture has spread from medina!! baba yetu’s the hit single resource you get in civ4 in building the broadway or rock n roll wonder lol :D

  10. I working in my country with vocal’s and lead the church choir and I would like to do baba yetu song with my choir but don’t have note’s to learn them so if someone could sent me note’s I would be grateful. Tnx

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